March 31, 2009
Tempest #27 — Here Come the Clowns

Storyboard for Act Two, Scene Two.
Essential elements:
* Must conceive Trinculo and Stephano as a comedy team. Stephano, like Malvolio or Oliver Hardy, has aspirations and manner above his station; Trinculo is the hunchback fool whose main talent is being whacked and humiliated, passive but can be, like Stan Laurel, sneakily mean at times. They should entertain us, but with a higher degree of need and grotesquerie than the innocence of Laurel & Hardy. Their comedy isn’t light.
* Caliban is doing more than bitching about his lot: he’s trying to cast futile spells against Prospero, but hopelessly cowed.
* We need the sense that the liquor hits Caliban like a stroke of lightning. The moment it hits, he’s an alcoholic.
* The song at the end is a grotesque parody of revolution. It’s in keeping with Shakespeare’s loathing of the mob: Jack Cade, or the plebes in Coriolanus, or the rioters tearing the poet to pieces in Julius Caesar. There’s an inherent nobility in Caliban, but in this scene he’s utterly debased.

Shadows, as before. Voices calling for Ferdinand, segue to buzzing of flies & mosquitoes.

01-Thunder. Lights up on Caliban moving across slowly R to L with heavy log. He stops, throws down log, starts beating on the earth, as if making formal curse.
>>>Caliban: All the infections that the Sun sucks up
>>>From Bogs, Fens, Flats, on Prosper fall, and make him
>>>By inch-meal a disease!
Thunder. He reacts in terror.
>>>His Spirits hear me,
>>>And yet I needs must curse.
Mumbling, struggles to pick up log, resuming work.
>>>But they’ll nor pinch,
>>>Fright me with Urchin-shows, pitch me i’ the mire,
>>>Nor lead me, like a firebrand, in the dark
>>>of my way, unless he bid ’em;
Having log up on his shoulder, he flies again into fury, lets it fall. Paces back and forth, striking at the air, then again at the earth.
>>> but
>>>For every trifle are they set upon me:
>>>Sometime like Apes, that mow and chatter at me
>>>And after bite me; then like Hedge-hogs, which
>>>Lie tumbling in my bare-foot way and mount
>>>Their pricks at my foot-fall; sometime am I
>>>All wound with Adders, who with cloven tongues
>>>Do hiss me into madness.–
He has frozen, looks around terrified. Trinculo’s voice, “Hallo! Yo! Hallo!” calling, echoing. Sound of goose horn.
>>>Lo now! lo!
>>>Here comes a Spirit of his, to torment me
>>>For bringing wood in slowly: I’ll cover up;
>>>Perchance he will not mind me.
Covers head with green plastic tarp (still sitting upright). Shivers visibly.
Trinculo, a dwarf court fool, hobbles on. He carries several noisemakers in his belt. Thunder. He looks up.
>>>Trinculo: Here’s neither bush nor shrub to bear off any weather, and another Storm brewing; yond same black cloud looks like a full jug that would shed his liquor. I know not where to hide my head–
Lightning, nearby thunder. Trinculo startles, his cap falling over his eyes. Gropes about. Bumps into Caliban. Uncovers eyes.
02->>>What have we here? a man or a fish? A fish: he smells like a fish; a very ancient and fish-like smell; a kind of not of the newest halibut.
Pats his stomach, feels Caliban with two free fingers, from head down. Feeling his genitals:
>>>Strange fish!
Sound from Caliban, shivering. Trinculo starts back, defending himself with his goose horn. Then, contemplative:
>>>Were I in England now, as once I was, not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver: there would this Monster make a man; any strange beast there makes a man. When they won’t give a fig to relieve a lame Beggar, they’ll lay out ten to see a dead Indian.
Approaches again. Feels Caliban.
>>>Warm! This is no fish, but an islander, that hath suffered by a Thunderbolt.
Lightning, then thunder.
>>>Alas! the storm, there is no shelter hereabout: I will here shroud till the dregs of the storm be past. Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.
He struggles to get under tarp. Flurry of tangled struggle, coming to a stop as both are on their bellies, with two pairs of feet emerging at 45-degree angle. Both moaning. Stephano is heard singing, off:
>>>Stephano: I shall no more to sea, to sea,
>>>Here shall I die a-shore:–
Stephano enters UR, as if still swimming. Stumbles, reels.
>>>This is a very scurvy tune to sing at a man’s funeral:
>>>Well, here’s my comfort.
Drinks from wineskin. Comforted:
>>>The Master, the Swabber, the Boatswain and I,
>>>The Gunner and his Mate,
>>>Lov’d Mall, Meg, and Marian and Margery,
>>>But none of us car’d for Kate;
Rises, staggers L, drinking, to Upstage of Caliban/Trinculo tangle.
>>>For she had a tongue with a tang,
>>>Would cry to a Sailor, ‘Go hang!’
>>>She lov’d not the savour of Tar nor of Pitch,
>>>Yet a Tailor might scratch her wheree’er she did itch:
03-Scratches obscenely on the tarp; Trinculo sound from underneath. Stephano lurches Upstage, then back down.
>>>Then to Sea, Boys, and let her go hang.
>>>This is a scurvy tune too.
Starts to sit on the lump. Caliban reacts. Stephano startles, lurching back US.
>>>Caliban: Do not torment me: O!
Another round of struggle. The feet reverse: both lying on their backs. Caliban and Trinculo pull the tarp back and forth, trying to cover up.
>>>Stephano: What’s the matter? Have we devils here? Ha! I’ve not ‘scaped drowning, to be afeard now of your four legs.
They settle. Stephano prods the dual creature.
>>>Caliban: The Spirit torments me: O!
>>>Stephano: This is some Monster of the isle with four legs. Where the devil should he learn our language?
Prods him again, delights in producing a reaction.
>>>Caliban: Do not torment me: I’ll bring my wood home faster.
Another flurry of pulling the tarp.
>>>Stephano: He’s in his fit now. If he have never drunk wine it will remove his Fit. If I can recover him and get to Naples with him, he’s a Present for any Emperor.
Stephano puts his hand firmly on the lump; they freeze, both trembling.
>>>Caliban: Thou dost me yet but little hurt; thou wilt anon, I know it by thy trembling: now Prosper works upon thee.
>>>Stephano: Open your mouth: this will shake your shaking, soundly. You can’t tell who’s your friend; open your chaps again.
04-Uncovers head; Caliban strains upward as Stephano gives him a drink. Strong focus on this first moment. Disgust/taste/eagerness. Stephano coaching Caliban in sounds of pleasure.
>>>Trinculo: I should know that voice: but he is drowned, and these are devils. O defend me!
>>>Stephano: Four legs and two voices! I will pour some in thy other mouth.
Moves to other end, uncovers head.
>>>Trinculo: Stephano!
Stephano startles back. Makes sign of cross with wineskin. Covers his own head.
>>>Stephano: Doth thy other mouth call me? Mercy! mercy! This is a devil, and no Monster.
>>>Trinculo: Stephano!– If thou beest Stephano, speak to me, I am Trinculo– thy good friend Trinculo.
Stephano peeks out, carefully approaches, finds pair of legs.
>>>Stephano: If thou beest Trinculo, come forth. I’ll pull thee by the lesser legs: if any be Trinculo’s legs, these are they.

05-Pulls on legs. Pulls harder, then mad flurry of tarp and people. Trinculo winds up in embrace with Stephano R, Caliban on far L side, sitting with tarp.
>>>Thou art very Trinculo indeed! How cam’st thou to be the dung of this Moon-calf? Can he vent Trinculos?
>>>Trinculo: I took him to be killed with a thunder-stroke and hid me for fear of the Storm. But art thou not drowned, Stephano? I hope thou art not drowned. Art thou living, Stephano? O Stephano!
Trinculo becomes more and more excited, starts spinning Stephano about.
>>>Stephano: Prithee, do not turn me about: my stomach is not constant.

06-Reels, then vomits into Trinculo’s trousers. Trinculo turns away, feeling trousers. Stephano gradually recovers.
>>>Caliban: These be fine things if they be not sprites.
That’s a brave God and bears Celestial liquor:
I will kneel to him.
>>>Stephano: How didst thou ‘scape? Swear by this Bottle how thou cam’st hither.
Gives him bottle. Trinculo drinks. Pats Trinculo lovingly.
>>>I escaped upon a Butt of Sack, which the Sailors heaved overboard, by this Bottle which I made of the bark of a Tree with mine own hands, since I was cast ashore.
Stephano sees Trinculo about to take another swig, grabs bottle from him, shoves him (alternately comradeship and abuse). Caliban feeling the effects of the liquor.
>>>Caliban: I’ll swear upon that Bottle, to be thy true subject; for the liquor is not earthly.
>>>Stephano: Here: swear then, how thou escapedst.
>>>Trinculo: Swam ashore, man, like a Duck: I can swim like a Duck.
>>>Stephano: Here, kiss the Book.
Hands him the bottle. He swigs.
>>>Though thou canst swim like a Duck, thou art made like a Goose.
>>>Trinculo: O Stephano! hast more of this?
>>>Stephano: The whole Butt, man: my Cellar is in a rock by the seaside, where my Wine is hid.
Whimper of longing from Caliban. They turn to see him. Trinculo startles back.
>>>How now, Moon-calf!
>>>Caliban: Hast thou not dropped from heaven?
Stephano sharing the joke with Trinculo:
>>>Stephano: Out o’ the moon, I do assure thee: I was the Man in the Moon, when time was.
>>>Caliban: I have seen thee in her; my mistress showed me thee.
>>>Stephano: Come, swear to that; kiss the Book;
07-Holds out bottle to Caliban. Caliban rubs his cheek against it, as if it’s too holy to touch. Trinculo whimpers. To Trinculo:
>>>I will furnish it anon with new contents;
To Caliban:
Caliban drinks: deep ecstasy, something entirely new to him. Trinculo speaking both to himself and to Stephano.
>>>Trinculo: This is a very shallow Monster.–I afeard of him!–a very weak Monster.–The Man i’ the Moon! a most poor credulous Monster!
>>>Caliban: I’ll show thee every fertile inch o’ the Island;
And I will kiss thy foot. I prithee, be my god.
>>>Trinculo: By this light, a most perfidious and drunken Monster: when his god’s asleep, he’ll rob his Bottle.
>>>Caliban: I’ll kiss thy foot: I’ll swear myself thy Subject.
>>>Stephano: Come on then; down, and swear.
Caliban bows as if kissing foot. Stephano teases him with bottle, at last letting him drink.
>>>Trinculo: I shall laugh myself to death at this puppy-headed monster. I could find in my heart to beat him,–
>>>Stephano: Come, kiss.
Stephano turns his ass to Caliban, waves bottle. Caliban kisses his ass. Stephano and Trinculo dissolve in laughter as he lets Caliban have another drink.
>>>Trinculo: But that the poor Monster’s in drink: an abominable Monster!
Change of tone. Caliban deeply intense:
>>>Caliban: I’ll shew thee the best Springs; I’ll pluck thee Berries;
>>>I’ll fish for thee, and get thee wood enough.
>>>A plague upon the Tyrant that I serve!
>>>I’ll bear him no more Sticks, but follow thee,
>>>Thou wondrous man.
>>>Trinculo: A most ridiculous Monster, to make a wonder of a poor drunkard!
Stephano swats Trinculo.
>>>Caliban: I prithee, let me bring thee where Crabapples grow;
>>>And I with long nails will dig thee pig-nuts;
>>>Show thee a Jay’s nest and instruct thee how
>>>To snare the nimble Marmoset; I’ll bring thee
>>>To clust’ring Filberts, and sometimes I’ll get thee
>>>Young scamels from the rock. Wilt thou go with me?

08-Both repeat the word “scamels?” Blank look. Caliban mimes one. They mime tasting it, like it enormously, gobble the whole imaginary handful of scamels. Stephano then recovers his dignity.
>>>Stephano: I prithee now, lead the way, without any more talking. Trinculo, the King and all our company else being drowned, we
Patting himself on the chest, taking a royal pose.
>>>will inherit here: Here; bear my Bottle.–Fellow Trinculo, we’ll fill him by and by.
Caliban in transport of drunken joy:
>>>Caliban: Farewell, Master; farewell, farewell.
>>>Trinculo: A howling Monster, a drunken Monster.
>>>Stephano: O brave monster! lead the way.
Stephano and Trinculo start up singing a tune without words. Caliban joins in, making up his own words.
>>>Caliban: No more dams I’ll make for fish;
>>>Nor fetch in firing at requiring,
>>>Nor scrape trencher, nor wash dish;
>>>’Ban, ‘Ban, Ca-Caliban,
>>>Has a new master– Get a new man.
Others join in as a chorus, dance about in celebration, Caliban and Trinculo circling Stephano, who stands regally in center. Segue to shouting “Freedom! Freedom!” as if shouting “kill, kill!”

09->>>All: Freedom, high-day! high-day, freedom! freedom! freedom!
All off UL. Recorded sound picks up “Freedom!” Shadow flurry.

* * *
So Elizabeth is off to her acting gig in Bloomsburg, PA, carrying along a ton of sound equipment to continue working in the Tempest score. We’re 3/5ths completed with casting. I’ve decided to play Prospero myself and am halfway thru the first act learning lines. I’m just finishing casting of the fifth Ariel head — his shape-shifting will be based on the same basic cast, built up with different elements. A day spent at the university library watching the first three hours of a ten-hour series on Shakespearean acting, specifically verse-speaking, produced by the BBC and the Royal Shakespeare Co., very stimulating. Starting the sculpting of Prospero and his brother Antonio. I need to work faster on everything.

Next entry, Apr. 7.

March 17, 2009
Tempest #26 — Neapolitans’ Noses

Finished at last with Rash Acts, though not with editing the video. Having cleared out our studio for an annual party, I’m now filling it back up with crap. It’s been chilly here, so I’ve been sculpting at a work table in our office; hope to get stuff back out to the studio this week and also to set up the aluminum frame for the set before Elizabeth takes off for her acting gig in Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, I’ve been sculpting more heads. It’s scary to me. It’s the first time since 1978 (for Macbeth) that I’ve created puppets for an existing classic text rather than for an original piece, and there’s a unique pressure about it. In regular casting of actors, you go in with a certain kind of image in your mind, but then it gradually evolves as you see what each actor brings to the role — the Macbeth or Prospero that’s inherent in this face or that face, this or that voice, spine, etc. Gradually, a new vision assembles itself, and you go with it, for better or worse.
With puppets, you start with the same vague vision, maybe some sketches, maybe some photos, but when “casting” begins you’re faced not with actors doing their two-minute monologs but simply with a big lump of clay. There’s the advantage that, no, the actor playing Caliban doesn’t have to look remotely like Caliban, but on the other hand there’s the terrible responsibility on the designer (me) to create the definitive Caliban: the face, the spine, the clothing that have been lurking there in that story and those words for 400 years. You sit down, you spray some water on the clay, and you start digging with your thumbs.

Every actor, of course, wants to bring something true and unique to any of these roles, and many actors will transform their own appearance radically with makeup, etc. But somehow designing the character in every detail and locking it into fixed expression is especially daunting. What’s the profile, the eye focus, the musculature that reveals the essential soul of Prospero or of Miranda? How much should be withheld? How do you give it the illusion of changed expression? What creates the incongruities that are at the heart of every compelling character?

Fixing those decisions into sculpted finality is like trying to write a play on fine vellum, never blotting a line. But while I generally begin with some kind of sketch or visual source, I’ve started to learn how to let the clay speak to me. It’s infinitely malleable, often it changes its mind, and it never makes the final decision. But if you trust the clay and trust your fingers to think, eventually something emerges.

I began with secondary characters and am gradually working my way to the more challenging ones. Of the five Neapolitans (I’m cutting two small courtier roles), I began with Sebastian, the King’s brother, and Gonzalo, the elderly councilor.
He changed radically from sketch to clay. Here are several photos of the model after being built up in papier mache. It’s hard to visualize what the eyes, the hair and the costume will do — he’ll have beard and hat. I generally insert glass eyes as I sculpt, then remove them for casting.
Initially I saw him as round, blobby, rather clownish, a sort of weak-kneed Rush Limbaugh. As they’re plotting to put him on the throne, we need to ask what kind of king he’d be: to my mind, utterly incompetent. Morally vacuous, he’s quite willing to go along with Antonio’s plot (like Roderigo with Iago in Othello); but clearly Antonio is dominant in the relationship and knows it. So I saw him as rather round and featureless, with a kind of sour frivolity that would make his administration as corrupt as any in recent memory.
As I started to work on him, though, I felt he needed to have more fraternal resemblance to the King. So what does the King look like? I came across Steichen’s portrait of J.P. Morgan, and it struck me that Alonso must be all command, “every inch a king,” so that Ferdinand’s supposed death brings him a sensation he’s never, ever felt before: utter impotence. He comes to the point, through grief and shock, of melting, and that’s a huge journey if he starts from the point of ruthless majesty.

So in fact I started sculpting Alonso, but it just didn’t work: he kept winding up smaller, rattier than what I conceived, and at last I realized, aha, this is the brother. Strong features, but everything slides to the side. There’s a fixed sardonic grin that may have too much intelligence for Sebastian, but I think I can counterbalance that with slightly unfocused eyes and a dandy’s mustache. Alonso will have the same wide mouth but no-nonsense, and a more knotted Roman nose and brow.
Of course Sebastian must form a ‘team” with Antonio, who in turn must have a fraternal resemblance to Prospero. I see Antonio with a coldness, a sharpness, that should provide good contrast to this Sebastian.

The obvious things are these: he’s elderly, he’s garrulous, an object of sport to the others, and seems a bit obtuse. While he’s absolutely loyal to Alonso, he’s helped Prospero survive the coup and has a moral center and a strange visionary streak that have managed to endure Chicago politics.
What isn’t immediately apparent is his strength. He’s reduced to tears at the end, but still he’s the one courtier who isn’t driven mad by the Harpy. And in his sudden waking as he and the King are about to be murdered, I think he has a real physical vigor that makes it clear that this old man could still be a formidable opponent in battle.
So I went for a rather rotund, wrinkly face, but one that has decayed from a structure of strength. A withheld, non-committal expression, but brows and eyes that don’t miss a thing. Always aware, always ready, but capable of softness. In the first sketch, he was quite small-featured and flat-faced, and though I’ve gone a different direction I think the alertness is still there. And I like the cowl as head covering.

Now in the process of casting five versions of Ariel. More about him next time. And also getting back to the Neapolitans, now in the first stages of Alonso. Elizabeth leaves March 29th for seven weeks in Bloomsburg, PA, playing the role of Ana in The Clean House, so she’s testing audio equipment — mikes, laptop, recorder, preamp, etc. — to take along to continue work on music. Oh, and her accordion.

Very pleased that nine of our puppets from Rash Acts and Inanna will be part of a gallery exhibit, “Playful Works,” at the Aurora Colors Gallery in Petaluma, March 21 thru May 2. Nice to be sittin’ there alongside actual visual artists.

No blog next week, as our website will be down due to the incomprehensible plans of our service provider. Next post in two weeks.

March 11, 2009
Tempest #25 — Music, Part One

Hello —
Last week, Elizabeth & I began intensive discussions about music and the whole sound envelope for Tempest, going beyond our generalized babble to discuss specific scenes. Here are Elizabeth’s unedited notes for the first three acts; they may be semi-incomprehensible but will hopefully convey some of the thought process going into the whole thing.
Music functions in Tempest to create a very broad world. Contrasting dynamics of that world:
* Voices, sampled words, text made animate; resonance of the classic on us; partnered with DVD projections.
* Songs: folk idiom, not courtly. Ref. Great Silky, Sacred Harp. Full Fathom: Drowned Girl song from Baal, Jabberwocky setting from our Theatre X Alice — minimal, tense.
* Sense of the whole Island as a living organism, breathing, humming, crying, laughing. So as melodic source, we want as much breath as possible, not plunked, not orchestral — accordion, pipes, flute, bowing behind bridge, human voice.
* Leitmotives: Island, Magick/Ariel, Court/Intruders, Clowns, Love.
* Ariel = mutability. Caliban = longing. Italians? Wheezing, & the acidity of our harpsichord for Revenger’s Tragedy.
I.i. — Shipboard — storm.
* Prior to storm, Prospero working magick, tight backlight, mirrored magick book — sound might contain elements of chant, text fragments, prep for all hell breaking loose.
* Chaos, then storm eye, then resurge, etc. Dialogue snatches when quieter, then full blast, then calms again. Very tightly composed, actors must time to score. CB will record text to work with for timing.
* Storm theme referenced again later when Trinculo senses storm; when Harpy appears; other echoes to be found.
* Look for number of major outbursts between verbal sequences, divide into major beats — thunder uses also altered voice, didge, etc. sense of rage of consciousness — also high shrieking, cries — aggressor and victim both. Cf. “Lot’s Wife.”
* (Check speakers for bass capability.)
* Crossover: from storm wailing to Miranda wailing — Gonzalo as if white-out.
I.ii. — Prospero/Miranda/Ariel/Caliban/Ferdinand
* Ground-level island sound with secondary cues (of what?) — incited by P’s blood pressure spikes — quieting from storm, but still disturbed.
* “Auspicious star” speech = thee prepping magickal work and Ariel’s appearance — Prospero might go into chant rhythm — Ariel is like imminent air pressure looming.
* Three different Ariel puppets — premonitory sounds — some distinct musical texture always when he’s present. Any major changes? Video image of Sycorax during threat.
* Return to island ambiance — no Caliban theme per se (he is not magickal). Island ambiance slightly different — Caliban brings grief, lonely animal cries — cave — his first line inside cave reverb.
* Ariel’s song bringing in Ferdinand — as sea nymph. First appearance of Ferdinand with Ariel is possibly precursor to love theme — introductory 3 notes that blossom later.
* Island ambiance shifts from Caliban to Ferdinand, something happens with magick (freezing sound, spirits grab & wrench him when draws sword). Some music under Miranda’s pleas and Ferdinand’s hopes.
* Act bridge contains faint echo of storm.

II.i. — King & nobles, Ariel, plot & waking.
* Music changes context, first recognizable quoting of “Court” — if there’s a Court quote, it’s brief and at the rise of lights, since now they’re in a strange world.
* Possibly the “Island” sound is always modified by whoever’s there with it — ghosts of anachronism: bird = backup beep, buffalo lowing = horn, parking ramp buzzer. Can punctuate moments in foreground.
* Ariel puts Gonzalo & Alonso to sleep, parallel to Prospero with Miranda. Sleep = bondage, awakening = freedom, coming into true self. Ref. Gonzalo’s “when no man was his own.”
* Antonio/Sebastian — infection — dissonant slithery buzz — something comes from initial Ariel sleep magick, souring — several stages, upping the ante and escalation — possibly their focus dims the Island’s texture. DVD from dispersed focus to labyrinth core?
* Ariel, like a jangle? Such a radical shift — jolt out of mood — has to be possible to be in Gonzalo’s head — driving rhythm of Ariel tinkling on top — Gonzalo wakes as a tiger, scaring the shit out of the duo — an old man but tremendously vigorous in defense.
* Return to Island sounds as at beginning.

II.ii. — Caliban, Trinculo, Stephano
* Ariel’s closing couplet the first hint of empathy. Music under Ariel, then transforms to Caliban’s island — this should include Tempest theme, since storm threatening — Caliban may proceed directly out of this — abates.
* New sounds rising storm, Trinculo washed in — if possible, sense of “here come the clowns” — Trinculo like Stephen Kent, all kinds of noisemakers on his belt as part of his schtick — whole concerto of approach.
* Island ambiance with weather threat.
* Stephano very drunk already, hiccups. Singing combines Richard Nixon and Terry-Thomas.
* Caliban only sings after others start rowdy song, but he changes the tone and intensity of it entirely. Huge cry of urge to freedom.
* Bridge into next act could include samples of Gonzalo’s utopian vision: ironic in relation to the new state envisioned by Stephano.

III.i. — Ferdinand/Miranda, Prospero in b/g.
* Island ambience, but underwritten by strong iterations of Love theme. At Prospero’s final monolog, shifts texture: sorrowful joy.

III.ii. — Caliban, Trinculo, Stephano, Ariel
* After short bridge underlining Prospero, segue to “here come the clowns” — then to island ambiance, way back — sting or other prep for Ariel’s appearance. Steady b/g thru a capella “Flout’em & scout’em, then Ariel sharp change. Invisible flute and drum — picks up melody they’re mangling, interjection may be light but with underlying ominous — peculiar drive, compulsive. They may continue singing on exit.

III.iii. — King, etc. — Banquet — Harpy
* Enters with sampling of utopian text as before, overlaid by Court theme. Island is now soured, maybe heartbeat from drum — headache, depression.
* Spirit banquet, Prospero setting them up for Harpy. Prominent reminder of P’s malicious impulse — something’s poisoned.
* Harpy is multi-voiced, word emphasis with unisons, some screams and screeches — heightened style. Sound ref. to fire? “I have made you mad” is regathering, 2nd phase. Huge energy, then sudden shift to aftermath, but holding the energy.
Coping next with the concept of the Masque staging in Act 4, which must shape the sound palette of the entire act.

This week, more sculpting, finished the head shells of Sebastian and Gonzalo.

Also finished a draft of the actors’ text, with slight interlinear cutting for clarity and with most of the punctuation from the First Folio. In some cases, this offers interesting hints of phrasing, at at the very least will open up the whole question of phrasing — I think — to a more fluid approach than can be had by following some editor’s notions.

Elizabeth is now packing to be back in Pennsylvania for seven weeks, performing in The Clean House at Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble. So she’s working out the issues of taking a highly condensed version of her studio equipment with her to commence working on the Tempest score while there. Laptop, M-box, mikes, software, storage. Long-distance multitasking isn’t easy, but it won’t be the first time.

Next week, hopefully, more storyboards.
— Conrad

March 2, 2009
Tempest #24 — Set Design

Finished a rendering and model of the Tempest set. I call it “first draft” because for me nothing is ever finalized. But the next step will be setting up the 10x8x8 ft. aluminum structure and starting to string up muslin, making a full-size “model” set that will eventually be the set itself.
Some thoughts that have gone into this:
* The visual design needs to have great sense of fluidity. The nature of the island varies with the person experiencing it. Nothing is fixed: reality is a tough negotiation. The video projection on the rear screen will be the major element of this, but I’ve tried to create a color range between warm and cool that allows radical transmutation depending on color washes in the lighting.

* Tempest is unique in Shakespeare (except for Comedy of Errors) in being tightly bound to the unities of time and place. The time pressure felt by Prospero is immense, the key to his first scene, where he must impart a vast amount of information like the panicked cramming for a vital exam. It moves about the island but builds a claustrophobia worthy of Beckett. So I’ve created a structure with some sense of movement, yet restricted, as if it’s contained within one person’s head. The characters seem to be on a journey, yet it’s more as if the journey comes to them.
* The island itself as a character, almost as if the humans found themselves walking on a living sea creature. There’s a sense of yellow sands, of abundant life, of desert — it’s indefinable. So I’ve painted it in overlays of creams, yellows and browns, of blue-greens.

* And the sea — with its brother the storm — is always present, with its magical power of sea-change transformation, with the frail humans passengers upon it. So I’ve echoed the shapes of sails, the texture of sail cloth.

* And the sense that the island, in fact the whole play, is a palimpsest. The characters bring the vast baggage of their pasts to this place, where they try to envision a new world and erase the past, yet have to cope with it. In another sense, the play is a theatrical artifice, nearly 400 years old, and so its text, its view of humanity, are imprinted in fragments on our collective mind. So I’ve looked to give it a sense of fragmentation, incorporating words and phrases as patchwork on the sail cloth, and some of the sense of decay one sees in the paintings of Ivan Albright. This is echoed in the finials at the five top points of the set: fragments of life masks of Prospero.
* The set forms a huge frame around the 8×6 ft. rear projection screen, which will use a wide palette of semi-abstract video (more about that later). When the video isn’t in use, there’s the possibility of drawing one of several travelers across the screen or bringing in some self-standing units to modify the space.

* The “busy-ness” of the set’s texture, the movement of the video, the richness of the sound score — all these are directly counter to the sense of The Tempest as a “peaceful” play, and that’s intentional. To me, the grand movement of the play is from the most extreme agitation at the outset to the achievement of peace at the end: but it’s a huge journey.
* Practicalities: must fit on a stage that’s 21x20x11 ft. Must be flexible for touring, ideally 3 hr. setup, 1.5 hr strike. Must provide good masking for offstage props in confined space. Must allow hanging positions within the set for small lighting instruments, as opening is too narrow for instruments in traditional hanging positions. Must provide minimum 5 ft. projection depth behind set. Must stay within $500 materials budget, besides the projection screen and aluminum structure that we already own.

Still to do: Video is half the design, and I have only some vague ideas on this. Probably some free-standing mobile set elements. Possibly another shape of traveling drop across the projection screen. Possibly engineering a concave billow in the two broad side panels, creating more the sense of a sail and a more dynamic line. And settling on a color palette for the costumes that works with all this.
Next week, notes on the music & sound score.